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Critical Eye: Winter Press Tour 2007

Jan 22, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Heroes’ Takes NBC’s Reilly Off DefCon 5

Wednesday, Jan. 17

Sitting with NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly after his TCA session, Reilly was circumspect about his former high-profile period of occupational uncertainty.

“It was character building,” he says. “I’m ready to put it behind me. It teaches you how to stay focused on your work. It was weird, the reports would come in these clusters. I’d come in and have 10 journalists on my call sheet that all have triple confirmation that my boxes were being packed. You start to feel bad for the organization, it bums people out. It undermines the organization when you’re trying to build confidence … [but] once you’ve been at DefCon 5, being at DefCon 3 feels pretty comfortable.”

Such talk has, of course, subsided in the wake of NBC’s rising ratings tide (specifically, “Heroes,” “The Office,” “My Name is Earl,” “Deal Or No Deal” and “Sunday Night Football”). Reilly’s NBC contract is up this summer and industry insiders say the ball is back in his court. Reilly declined to comment on the contract status, saying only that he’s feeling confident about the company.

One last thing. According to Wikipedia, on the DefCon scale, level 5 is actually the most relaxed state of readiness, and 1 is the never-used “24”-season-premiere nuke-attack imminent level. But, c’mon. Reilly has to run an entire broadcast network, he can’t be expected to know everything.

Feeling the Love

Wednesday, Jan. 17

“Maybe quality isn’t something you define,” intones an NBC clip narrator, sounding almost like a “Saturday Night Live” parody of a fourth-place network’s ad copy. “But you know it when you see it, and maybe that’s what matters.”

The defensive-sounding clip opens NBC’s TCA session. But the funny thing is, NBC is currently-in a freakish perfect storm of Nielsen ratings positional jockeying-tied for first place season to date. Though they’re expected to end up in fourth by May, even that story is relatively sunny, since NBC has improved significantly year to year.

On stage, a reinvigorated Kevin Reilly said NBC’s fall shows have “brought the love back to the network.”

“What I’m really feeling right now in the building is a new confidence,” he says. “It’s actually shockingly, weirdly, becoming fun again. People are saying, `What’s that feeling we’re having? Oh, that’s fun.”‘

`Emergency’ Solution

Monday, Jan. 15

The biggest clue that ABC has some momentary programming challenges is that cellar-rated sitcom “In Case of Emergency” is one of its two TCA series panels. The most recent “Emergency” episode earned a mere 2.3 rating among adults 18 to 49, down 15 percent from its debut, and was the lowest-rated show last Wednesday among the major networks.

So critics wonder: “Why is the top-rated broadcast network paneling a series on the verge of cancellation?”

The answer: ABC’s midseason shows have largely tanked and the network doesn’t have anything that’s worthwhile and ready to go on the air just yet to fill the slots. (Also, [ABC Entertainment President Stephen] McPherson likes “Emergency” and wants to give it a chance.)

At TCA, this means critics and the affable “Emergency” panelists have to work together to somehow keep conversationally afloat a 45-minute panel. This is like being at a dinner party where nobody has much in common and everybody tries desperately to avoid awkward lulls. “So,” a critic asks, “what is it about your characters that you like?”

Later, there’s a showrunners panel. The biggest laugh comes from this exchange between two of the “Lost” executive producers, [Carlton] Cuse and [Damon] Lindelof.

Cuse: “We went to Steve McPherson last season and said, `Okay, one of our main characters, Michael, is going to kill two of our other main characters.’

Lindelof: “And they were all: `As long as one of them is Michele Rodriguez.”‘

The `Lost’ Smart Bomb

Sunday, Jan. 14

It seems the producers of “Lost” can also reveal surprise plot twists in real life. Exec producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof just dropped the biggest ballroom bomb of TCA: They’re in discussions with ABC to announce an end date for the series.

This statement comes as a surprise to everybody in the room-including ABC executives.

“It’s time for us now to find an endpoint for the show,” Cuse says. “JK Rowling announced there were seven books in the Harry Potter series and it gives fans [a framework for understanding the arc of the show]. `The X-Files’ was a cautionary tale for us. It was a great show that ran two seasons too long. `Lost’ has a short half-life.”

Down the hallway, ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson is having lunch, and seems less than thrilled by the producers’ comments. After all, producers don’t cancel shows, network presidents do. He admits he didn’t know Lindelof and Cuse were going to make the announcement, then objected to the term “announcement.”

“Nothing was announced,” he says. “We’ve had those discussions for the past two years.”